America's Best Day of the Dead Celebrations

Remember departed loved ones and celebrate life at these 10 Day of the Dead events old and new throughout the US.

October 14, 2019

Photo By: David Ortiz, Fort Lauderdale Day of the Dead Celebration

Photo By: NELSONAGUIRRE

Photo By: STEVELARESE

Photo By: STEVELARESE

Photo By: STEVELARESE

Photo By: STEVELARESE

Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead

Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, is a holiday that traces its origins back to Mesoamerican cultures such as the Aztec, Toltec and other Nahua cultures. The holiday honored Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec god of the underworld. It was believed that on this day the dead could visit the living, and that to mourn the dead was an insult to them. With the arrival of the Spanish and Catholicism, this holiday was blended into All Saint’s Day that occurs on Nov. 1 and 2, the day after Halloween. Traditionally, families visit their departed loved ones’ grave sites and clean them. Death is celebrated as a reminder of the fragility of life, and as an acknowledgement that everyone dies, no matter their rank in society. (Photo by David Ortiz for Fort Lauderdale Day of the Dead Celebration.)

Colorful, Festive Celebrations

The rituals surrounding Día de los Muertos are beautiful and imbued with meaning. Altars are made to honor the dead with photos and items and foods they enjoyed in life. Marigolds are thought to help guide the dead to the living, and candles light the way. Festive decorations such as paper cutouts called papel picado represent the fragility of life. Sugar skull makeup is worn, sometimes on only half the face to represent the duality of life and death. Parades with floats honoring the dead are common. As the holiday gains in popularity in the United States, organizers stress that it is different from Halloween, and hope that the message of Day of the Dead isn’t lost or appropriated. Here are 10 Día de los Muertos events throughout the US, some new and some decades old, that honor the culture and traditions of this day of remembrance and celebration.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Fort Lauderdale’s 10th-annual Day of the Dead celebration kicks off Nov. 2 at 2 p.m. with an altar exhibit and a Mesoamerican ceremony at New River Inn, followed at 5:30 p.m. by a Skeleton Processional along the Quetzalcoatl Trail at 32 E. Las Olas Boulevard. Eight stages downtown featuring music and dancing, altars, workshops and vendors keep the celebration going until 4 a.m.

Mano a Mano, New York City

New York City celebrates the Day of the Dead with its annual Mano a Mano Dia de los Muertos celebration, Oct. 26-27, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Make ofrendas (altars) for departed loved-ones, enjoy traditional music and Aztec dancers, Pan de Muerto bread, food, a folk art market and other events to celebrate the lives of the deceased.

San Diego, California

San Diego's Dia de los Muertos celebration in its historic Old Town Nov. 2 and 3 is one of the largest in the nation. View more than 40 traditional and contemporary altars, and bring photos of your loved one to add to a public altar. Food, music, face painting and traditional craft booths line the plaza, and at dusk a candlelight procession leads from Old Town to El Campo Santo cemetery for a remembrance. For more Day of the Dead events throughout San Diego, visit sandiego.org.

San Antonio, Texas

Considered the largest in the nation, San Antonio’s colorful Day of the Dead celebration Oct. 26-Nov. 3 in La Villita Historic Arts Village sees a weekend of music, food, altar making and traditional Mexican crafts in Las Catrinas Plaza, and also in the Pearl District. Chefs from Mexico and San Antonio wow palates in the Barrio Gastonomico, and a sunset candlelight vigil honors loved ones. Throughout the week Day of the Dead events take place, including a free screening of the film Coco. For the first time, San Antonio hosts Catrinas on the River parade, in which Day of the Dead-themed barges delight spectators.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco celebrates Día de los Muertos with a Festival of the Altars at 4 p.m. Nov. 2 at Potrero del Sol Park (La Raza Park). It's followed by a candlelight procession, beginning at 22nd and Bryant in the Mission District at 7 p.m. Bring candles and mementos to add to the community altars.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque’s Muertos y Marigold Parade is one of the nation’s largest Día de los Muertos events, and most colorful. Community groups, fire stations and individuals make elaborate floats that parade through the South Valley with vintage cars, low riders and marching bands in full makeup. The parade ends at Westside Community Center with altars, vendors and live music. For 2019 parade updates, check here.

Longmont, Colorado

Longmont Museum hosts Colorado’s largest Day of the Dead festival beginning Oct. 27 with a free sugar skull-making workshop. Its Dia de los Muertos exhibit in partnership with the Denver Botanic Gardens is up Oct. 10-Nov. 4, and features community altars and the history of Day of the Dead. The Day of the Dead celebration on Nov. 2 begins with the free Family Fiesta from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. downtown with live music and dancing, sugar skull decorating, food, altars, crafts and face painting. At 6:15 p.m. the Gigantes Procession sees huge puppets paraded from the Family Fiesta to the Dickens Opera House, followed by the Catrina Ball from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. ($15).

Olvera Street Day of the Dead, Los Angeles

From Oct. 25-Nov. 2, Olvera Street at Los Angeles’ El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument sees pre-Columbian candlelit Novenario Processions beginning at 7 p.m. that begin with a Mayan blessings and sage cleansings. Free pan de muerto (sweet bread) and champurrado (Mexican hot chocolate) are served afterward. Community altars are displayed on the Plaza Oct. 28-Nov. 2. Teatro del Barrio performs its La Danza de la Muerte daily Oct. 25–Nov. 3 at 6 p.m., and face painting on the weekend make this a fun family event. On Oct. 26, wear sugar skull paint for the Carrera de los Muertos 5k fun run.

Day of the Dead Xicágo, Chicago

Chicago’s National Museum of Mexican Art celebrates with the free Day of the Dead Xicágo on Sunday, Oct. 27 from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Help decorate Harrison Park with altars devoted to loved ones and enjoy live music, face painting, arts and craft activities and plenty of pan de muerto. On Nov. 2, the museum hosts the Día de los Muertos: Love Never Dies Ball from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. with music, food and drinks and a raffle offered to support the museum. The special exhibit, Día de Muertos–A Matter of Life, explains the history of this holiday, and is dedicated to the victims of the Aug. 3 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas.

Roswell, Georgia

Roswell, Georgia, hosts its first-ever Día de los Muertos Festival and Parade Saturday, Nov. 2, from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the City Hall grounds. The day will see street performers, Mexican ballet, mariachi bands, tequila tasting, craft workshops and face painting, as well as food vendors. Beginning at dusk, a closing lantern parade through downtown Roswell will remember loved ones.

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